Australia has woken up this morning to empty shelves in the toilet aisle, and hashtags like #ToiletPaperApocalypse, #ToiletPaperCrisis, and #ToiletPaperGate trending. Woolworths Group announced a purchasing limit on toilet paper packs in a media release yesterday, and shoppers have reported utter pandemonium in the aisles, just like in the video below. So what exactly has sparked this frenzy?
Seriously WTF Australia? Panic buying of toilet paper at Woolies pic.twitter.com/VyYnct4rAV
— Andrew Backhouse (@Andytwit123) March 4, 2020
CEO of the National Retail Association, Dominique Lamb, is not surprised by the types of items being snapped up by consumers.
“It’s certainly no unusual to see these supplies in high demand at a time of crisis. We know that when there are storms, fires, or a health threat like COVID-19, people stock up on non-perishable food, toilet paper and bottled water.”
“What is unusual is the level of concern shoppers have surrounding Coronavirus. The emergency measures announced by the Federal Government show that we are monitoring the situation and ready to respond quickly. The level of panic seems to be at odds with the current situation, mostly due to reports of occurences in other countries.”
Retailers have reported higher sales volumes over the past two days, with Woolowrths Group citing in their press release that a limit of four packs of toilet paper per customer is being enforced to “help shore up stock levels as suppliers ramp up local production and deliveries in response to higher than usual demand”. Most toilet paper is manufactured by a factory in South Australia, which will have no issues coping with increased demand.
So, while the items being purchased aren’t unusual for a perceived emergency situation, the behaviour certainly is. Professor Gary Mortimer, retail expert from the Queensland University of Technology Business School, has commented on the psychology of this shopping frenzy.
“Consumers are like sheep sometimes. Herding is exacerbated in periods of uncertainty, so when we’re unsure of something, we follow safety in numbers and do what everyone else is,” he told media.
“Rationally we know most toilet paper sold here is produced here, so we won’t run out domestically, but when people are unsure, we give up rational decision-making.”
The National Retail Association encourages retailers to avoid this herd mentality, and to check for updates on the status of the coronavirus outbreak via our Member Update or at the Department of Health website.